Being Deaf in Sports


As I've mentioned before, I have the incredible honor of being a part of the USA Deaf Women's National Team for soccer. Before joining this team, I played sports competitively my whole life. Now, being deaf or hard of hearing does not mean we are not capable of playing high level sports. We just have to adjust some things when it comes to communication. So what does that mean exactly? For me, personally, it's a lot of visual cues such as reading the body language of others. 

If you've ever participated in a swimming event, you know there's a beep/whistle that cues the start of the race. That system won't exactly work for someone who can't hear, right? There are waterproof hearing aids, but I HATED them and refused to wear them, so alas, we had to figure out a way for me to get the starting memo. Before every race, we (my coach, my mom, and sometimes me) would approach the starting official (pardon my lack of proper swimming terminology). We would politely ask he or she to wave his or her arm down (a la racing flag style) at the same time the whistle was blown. It felt odd to be the person that changed the system for one race, but dammit, I loved to swim, and I wasn't going to let one thing stop me from competing. 

One case of #deafproblems was when there was a false start, and because I couldn't hear everyone shouting at me, I swam as fast as I could, only to find out I would get out and have to do it all over again. I was pretty embarrassed to have been 'that person', but I managed to finish in first place, so I guess it all worked out. 

In tennis, I often struggled knowing what the coach was telling me across the court in lessons, especially if he was too far away for me to read his lips. I would read his body language to understand what he was telling me. If he moved his grip around on his racket, that usually meant I needed to adjust mine. Tossing his hand up meant I needed to toss the ball higher on my serve. In most drills, I would follow behind someone, so I could visually see what I was supposed to do.

In soccer, communication is crucial! I remember my coach repeatedly drilling us about communicating with each other. Shout 'man on', 'out wide', 'up top', 'ball back', anything so your teammates are aware. While there are plays in soccer, it's not operated the same way as football where you call out the play in a huddle, so communication is almost the biggest fundamental. I used to have mild freakouts when I lost the ball. I would blame it on the fact that I couldn't always hear someone coming up behind me or someone yelling at me from across the field. I worried my teammates would fault me for that miss. It was even worse when it would rain, and I had to take my hearing aids out. There were definitely a few games where I couldn't see because of the rain, and I couldn't hear. Talk about a predicament! Because I couldn't always hear, I had to train myself (still working on this) to keep me head up and ALWAYS be on the lookout. 

So here's where I come back to being on a deaf soccer team. Everyone is in the same boat as me. When we train or play, all hearing devices must be removed, so as someone who has grown up being told to talk on the field almost incessantly, this has not been an easy adjustment. Granted, we all still shout on the field even thought none of us can hear anything. Pretty sure our coaches think we're ridiculous. We all have to adjust and communicate in a different way. The challenge is most certainly not easy, but it helps knowing that in this case, I'm not alone! 

What I love about sports is how visual they are, and most of us that are deaf or hard of hearing rely so heavily on visuals that we are really grateful to have something that can work to our strengths more than it does to our weaknesses. 

What have you struggled with in sports? How did you overcome it? I want to hear from you about the highs and lows of playing sports!

PS Be on the lookout for 12-year-old Carly Ortega who will sign the national anthem at the college football championship game. GO DAWGS!